Bitcoin Nonprofit ₿trust Launches Africa Open Source Cohort; Names First Developer

Jay-Z and Jack Dorsey-funded Bitcoin non-profit picked Vladimir Fomene, who will contribute to the Bitcoin Development Kit and the Swahili Wordlist.

AccessTimeIconJul 21, 2022 at 1:07 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 3:53 p.m. UTC
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₿trust has selected Vladimir Fomene as the founding member of its Africa Open Source Cohort. ₿trust is a nonprofit organization created to decentralize Bitcoin software development by locating, educating and remunerating Bitcoin developers in the global south (Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean). It was initially funded by Block (SQ) CEO Jack Dorsey and rapper/entrepreneur Jay-Z in February 2021 with a donation of 500 BTC.

₿trust’s Africa Open Source Cohort program is designed for long-term contribution. New members will be expected to sign a one-year contract to start. Compensation will be based on a number of factors, including the extent of each developer's contribution to open-source Bitcoin projects. Cohort developers will receive professional management, mentorship, support from peers, assistance with relationship management and financial support (e.g., stipends for hardware and miscellaneous expenses).

₿trust board member Obi Nwosu calls this type of investment into the Bitcoin ecosystem a form of speculative philanthropy – investing that seeks to increase the aggregate value of an ecosystem rather than to maximize traditional financial measures of return.

Who is Vladimir Fomene?

Fomene is a Cameroonian software engineer with a self-confessed preference for JavaScript and Rust. He heard about bitcoin in 2014, but it took several key events to turn him into a bitcoin convert. The first was a divisive 2018 election in his homeland. Then came civil unrest in neighboring Nigeria where locals were protesting police brutality. The straw that broke the camel’s back may have been the consistent devaluation of Cameroon’s Central Africa CFA franc. All of these events left Fomene deeply distrustful of traditional governments and bitcoin appeared to be a viable currency alternative. “It became clear to me that we had given governments too much power, and they could abuse it,” Fomene wrote on his blog.

Fomene will primarily work on the Bitcoin Development Kit (BDK) – a suite of tools and libraries designed to improve bitcoin wallet development. He also plans to contribute to Swahili Wordlist – a project designed to enable Swahili-based mnemonic phrases (easy to remember words used to recover a bitcoin wallet). According to a United Nations estimate, over 200 million people in Africa speak Swahili.

Decentralizing Bitcoin development

In an interview with CoinDesk, Nwosu said he sees Bitcoin decentralization yielding benefits similar to what we have seen with the collaborative approach adopted by mathematicians and other sciences.

Distrust in government is a common theme throughout the global south, Nwosu said. This makes the region fertile ground for bitcoin adoption. Regions dominated by authoritarian governments need bitcoin the most. If that is indeed the case, he argued, why not invest and nurture Bitcoin developer communities in those regions?

Another consideration is developer centralization. While mining centralization is a frequently discussed issue, developer centralization receives much less attention. Currently, Bitcoin development seems to be concentrated in the global north (Europe, North America and Australasia). Efforts like ₿trust are designed to onboard developers from all regions of the Bitcoin community.

This decentralization strategy becomes even more critical as key Bitcoin Core developers resign from their positions. Over the past year and a half, several Bitcoin developers and maintainers have left their roles (John Newbery, Samuel Dobson, Jonas Schnelli and Peter Wuille). If ₿trust achieves its goal of locating, educating and remunerating Bitcoin developers in the global south, Bitcoin development stands to benefit from a large pool of geographically diverse developers ready to fill the shoes of outgoing contributors.

Scaling the cohort program across the global south

Since ₿trust first received its funding, many key developments have quietly taken place. It set up its board of directors and established a set of principles. However, it is still in the process of finalizing its organizational structure. Once that step is complete, additional developers will be recruited. Eventually, lessons learned in Africa will be used to improve expansion efforts in other regions of the global south. Nwosu, calls this, “responsibly scaling” – developing a replicable cohort model and minimizing the disruption caused by new and inexperienced developers as they enter the Bitcoin development community.

₿trust joins the ranks of other prominent Bitcoin development funding organizations like Brink, Spiral, Qala and Chaincode Labs in supporting the people who are building the open-source technology that underpins the ecosystem.


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Frederick  Munawa

Frederick Munawa was a Technology Reporter for Coindesk. He covered blockchain protocols with a specific focus on bitcoin and bitcoin-adjacent networks.

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